Please Your Reader or You’re Fired!

One great writing tip I learned, and unfortunately, I learned the hard way, is to please one’s reader. I remember my first semester of graduate school after turning in a large writing assignment–without employing a good editing service–and about to meet my professor to receive her feedback.  “She’s probably speechless,” I remember thinking as I walked down the stark hallway to her office.  “She probably hasn’t read anything so well-written.  This is going to be great.”  It wasn’t.  As I sat down in a wobbly chair across her seven-foot spread desk, “This is crap, John.  Try it again.” She then slung over my Pulitzer, now immersed in red ink.

The best way I’ve found to determine what is “not crap” to a reader is to obtain a model.  If you’re writing a dissertation, directly ask your advisor and committee for a handful of prior dissertations they thoroughly enjoyed. If you’re trying to publish an article on the Internet or scholarly journal – study your competition, such as similar Internet pieces or prior journal issues.

Also, be aware of the little things that annoy your reader.  For me, I heavenly enjoy publications that are succinct.  For some reason, many believe that in order to prove that you are knowledgeable, the longer a publication should be.  It is actually the opposite.  It is more challenging to keep a publication short, without sacrificing germane content. I’ve met some pretty brilliant and entertaining people, and with each publication or interaction, they get to the point.  They know exactly what to say and how to say it.  There’s no repetition.  There’s no rambling of words helplessly trying to create an argument.

Submit a 50 page dissertation rather than a 200 page one,  and I bet your committee will not only thank you for saving them time during their weekend, but also enjoy the shorter version better, as long as you are succinct and include just the necessary content.  Get a good dissertation editorif you have to. But cut the fat, any way you can! What is that acronym…KISS?

My advisor had a love/hate relationship with anthropomorphisms (yeah, I had to look this word up as well after I first heard it, although I nodded my head initially like I used it daily).  Basically, chapters cannot “discuss.”  Studies cannot “argue.”  Findings cannot “show.”  The more I included such personification of inanimate objects, the more annoyed he became – not a good sign.  He also despised passive tone, which is a common dislike among us editors.  He once said, “Put yourself in your paper, and do it with authority.  Don’t say that this study will be conducted. Say, ‘I’ will conduct this study and ‘I’ will conduct it WELL! You’re almost a doctor…not a real doctor mind you, but a doctor nonetheless for God’s sake.”

Finally, make sure the first ten pages of your material are critically enticing.  This is what screenwriters refer to as the critical window, where readers decide if they are going to enjoy and thus, continue with the rest of your work. So, at the very least, make certain your introduction meets your reader’s liking.

Oh, and whatever you do, never let that great egotistical voice in your head diminish.  I still think my first academic piece was a masterpiece.  Okay, clearly not, but there’s something to be said for staying positive…

Dr. John,

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